Bringing a Solutions Focus to Your Beat

You have to have tension to keep readers interested. So maybe you don’t tell them everything all at the top of the story. You reward them along the way with, 'Then they did this, then they did that.' I’m a big one for putting a human face on the issue. I always try to tell a story through people but using the numbers to support it all.

Meg Kissinger portrait
Meg Kissinger
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

If you’re a beat reporter, here are a few ways you can bring a solutions focus to your everyday work:

Cover a local program.

As mentioned earlier, a solutions story is a good way to catch readers who might skip over a more traditional report on a “too depressing” issue like natural disasters. Just make sure to interview a wide variety of people. Anne Kniggendorf at Reasons to be Cheerful used this approach when she reported on how Greensburg, Kansas used the aftermath of a destructive tornado as an opportunity to become more environmentally sustainable. A key to these stories is to focus on the model that the local program uses, rather than the program itself. That will help it sound less like a PR piece.

Localize a solution from elsewhere.

This involves changing the definition of “local news” from something happening in your city, to something that is relevant to your city. Meg Kissinger, a reporter with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, compared her city’s failing mental health system to Houston’s innovative law enforcement programs.

Contrast two cases.

If something failed in one place, and flourished in another, what made for the difference? Keegan Kyle at the Orange County Register researched Santa Ana’s failed efforts to deal with prostitution. He then contrasted Santa Ana’s track record with a successful strategy in nearby Anaheim. What accounts for the difference? How, if at all, could Santa Ana learn from Anaheim?

Treat solutions stories like obituaries.

The New York Times has hundreds of pre-written obituaries. When a famous person dies, they top it up with a few paragraphs and can quickly publish it. Similarly, there are many interesting solutions stories that can be pre-researched. And then, when the unemployment reports come out, for example, you can quickly publish something about five American companies that are successfully dealing with the changing global workforce.